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Human Resources

Automation helps companies fish for the best candidates in an enormous pool of applicants.

Scott Adams, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Protective Life.

Scott Adams, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Protective Life.

With the unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent and nearly 14 million Americans unemployed, companies have an abundance of workers to choose from to fill most any open positions in their firms these days.

So with such an enormous pool of candidates to choose from, how do human resources people weed through all those applications and find the right employee?

“It’s called automation,” says Sheila Williams, vice present of human resources for Infinity Property and Casualty. “The volume is much larger than it used to be. The Internet has really changed the whole way that people look to apply for jobs.

“It used to be that you’d run an ad in the newspaper and you got what you got. Now, if you look at the want ads in the newspaper, you’ll see that there is very little in there. That’s because everybody is using online sites, whether it’s al.com or CareerBuilder or Monster. There are some large sites where that’s all they do.”

Countless hours could be spent poring over all the applications, a daunting task no doubt, but technology has made it somewhat easier to manage.
“We have an applicant tracking system, or an ATS as they’re called, that will do some of the work for you,” Williams says. “It will deliver into the in-box of the recruiter who is handling that particular job. You can put filters where the candidate answers questions so it will filter out people and tell them ‘No, thank you’ if they don’t have the skills.

“If we need somebody who has had two years developing software in Java language, you can ask them, ‘Do you have that experience?’ If they answer no, it kicks them out. If it’s a job where you have to work some nights and weekends, can you work those hours? If the answer is no, it kicks them out.

“That helps a little bit. Of course, there are still people who answer yes and when they get to the interview they really can’t. There’s nothing you can do about that.”

Williams estimates that her company receives approximately 650 to 850 applications each week for only 75 to 80 job openings throughout the firm nationwide. Although Infinity Property and Casualty has nearly 2,000 employees, it is growing by about 10 percent, meaning recruiters are actively searching for candidates who are the right fit for the company.

“We have our recruiting centralized in Birmingham, though we have openings throughout the whole country,” Williams says. “The recruiters here will screen applicants and determine who meets the job requirements, then filter those on to the managers of the various areas. They’ll review them and if they’re interested, they’ll go on to the next step.”

A number of criteria come into play during the screening the process. Scott Adams, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Protective Life, says the first thing they look for is relevant experience.

“Immediately, that’s the best way to screen out a lot of people,” Adams says. “With unemployment these days, there are a lot of people applying for jobs whether they have relevant experience or not.

“If they pass that screen, then there’s a phone interview to see what the first impression is when you have a conversation with them. When you have a job (opening) that has a lot of volume, you do a quick phone screen to assess if the person has the right qualifications and do they make a good first impression. Call center jobs, for example, how they handle themselves on the phone is very relevant. So you can quickly make an assessment via the phone.”

For some jobs, testing tools are used to screen candidates. “That’s a great way to weed down an overwhelming number of candidates,” Adams says. “If they pass all that, then we have them come in and do some in-person interviewing with hiring managers.

Both Williams and Adams say in certain situations they will turn to headhunters to find the right applicant.

“We occasionally use agencies if the talent in a particular area is lacking and we’re going to be searching for more passive candidates, those who are not actively looking,” Williams says. “So we will from time to time use an agency to go out and find that talent.”

Adams says it depends on the position. “For some executive jobs, we’ll use search firms. Sometimes we’ll use contract recruiters, if somebody has a specialty in that particular area and we have a large volume.”

Finally, a decision has to be made on which candidate to hire. At that point, it sometimes comes down to simply choosing the person who feels right, and then hoping for the best.

“Interviewing isn’t a science. You can always make a mistake and miss a good candidate and get the wrong one,” Williams says. “But you have to make a decision and go forward and hope you made the best one.”

Cary Estes is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. He lives in Birmingham.
 

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